Kyle Schmidt (left) with his father, Bill, and mother, Susie, pick and eat ripening blueberries at Schmidt Blueberry Farm on Monday. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Kyle Schmidt (left) with his father, Bill, and mother, Susie, pick and eat ripening blueberries at Schmidt Blueberry Farm on Monday. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Blueberries are in their blood

For more than 50 years, blueberry farming in Marysville has been part of the Schmidt family summers.

MARYSVILLE — Susie Schmidt would hang a white towel on the fence.

That’s how her husband, Bill, knew it was time to come in from working on their blueberry farm.

Now their youngest son just keeps his cellphone handy so his wife can call him. He’s often out among the 4 acres of plants. Kyle and Mikala Schmidt decided when they took over the farm last year that it was time to upgrade from his parents’ towel-signal system, he said.

Bill, 75, doesn’t own a cellphone.

That’s OK, though, because “I’m just the assistant now,” he said.

Kyle and Mikala bought the Schmidt Blueberry Farm from Kyle’s parents. They are the third generation on the land. Its decades-old plants are laden with sweet, round berries this time of year.

“I’m the one in the family who likes to farm, and we thought it’s a great place to raise the kids,” said Kyle Schmidt, 41.

Kai, 9, and Elle, 6, are generation four. Along with picking berries, they’re comfortable using farm equipment and helping their dad fix irrigation pipes.

For more than 50 years, blueberry farming has been part of Schmidt family summers. Picking and selling berries helped pay for college tuition and post-berry-season vacations to Hawaii.

The Schmidts sell at farmers markets in Everett, Mukilteo, Edmonds, Redmond and Seattle. They have U-Pick hours Thursday through Sunday in July and August.

Though farming is a passion for Bill and Kyle, they have other jobs. Bill Schmidt and his two older sons, Bill Jr. and Robb, work as chiropractors. Kyle, a dentist, has his practice in the same building. They also have a sister, Bill Jr.’s twin, Brenda Rogge.

The family’s chiropractic and dental offices are at 4418 Rucker Ave. in Everett. They sell berries there, too.

The property in Marysville has about 4,000 blueberry plants. The five varieties ripen at different times to stretch the season, which runs from early July through mid-August.

The last week of July and first week of August generally are the sweet spot for flavor and abundance.

Open land

The family’s legacy in Washington started when Bill’s parents, Henry and Sophie Schmidt, moved from the East Coast more than 70 years ago.

Sophie Kramer arrived in New York City via Ellis Island in the 1920s, traveling alone from Germany. She was 19 years old.

In New York, she met Henry Schmidt. They married in 1931. Their first two children, Anna and Fred, were born in New York.

The family moved west, having heard there was open land. They purchased nearly 40 acres in Marysville in 1949. Bill was born in Washington.

Bill’s brother, Fred, and sister-in-law, Peg, planted the first section of blueberries on the property more than 50 years ago.

Their mom always liked the idea of a farm, but Fred and Peg weren’t interested long term.

When Bill returned from college in Iowa, he began helping his mom with the plants. He figures berries are in their blood. Sophie Schmidt was a cousin to the Biringer family, who run a berry farm in Arlington.

Sophie, who came to the U.S. with very little, wanted her children and grandchildren to be educated and successful. They’ve gone to college and held jobs outside the farm. Some “got dirt under our nails,” Bill Schmidt said, and ended up spending a lot more time among the berries.

He and Susie were living in Everett when he started splitting his time between his chiropractic business and the farm. He would drive the truck and equipment back and forth, and it became too much. He convinced Susie to move to Marysville. Some husbands make a hobby of golfing, he told her, but he’d made a hobby of berry farming.

Bill and Susie Schmidt still live on the property. After Kyle and Mikala bought the farm, they had a second, smaller home built for Kyle’s parents.

A place for family

A week before berry season, the family gathered at a table near the large windows that look out on the berry plants, trees and, in the distance, the mountains of the Cascade Range. They laughed and teased one another, and shared a few favorite memories.

“When I was kid, probably 10, we didn’t have irrigation, and we had a really hot summer,” Kyle Schmidt said. “We went to all the stores in Snohomish County and bought all the hose.”

They hooked up the hose line — 900-plus feet, Bill figures — and that summer Kyle and his siblings were tasked with walking around and watering every plant.

“I figured they were OK because they could squirt each other,” Bill Schmidt said.

The next year, Susie Schmidt called into a radio station contest and won $5,000.

They used it to buy an irrigation system.

Bill jokes that blueberry plants are like children — once you’ve got them, you’ve got to take care of them, and it’s not easy to get rid of them. And it’s painful when something bad happens.

Kyle’s older brother Robb Schmidt worked hard but “was never the dirt guy,” Bill Schmidt said. One day, while Robb was on the riding mower, Bill heard a crash, then silence. He hurried over to find that Robb had mowed over one of the plants after driving through a spiderweb.

Bill Schmidt was angry, he admits. But Robb kept a close eye on the mauled plant. The next season, it came back stronger and more productive.

Bill laughs about it now. “He said, ‘Well, Dad, you want me to mow them all down?’”

There were “midnight runs,” when the family would load the car with fresh-picked berries around 11 p.m. and cruise down to Seattle to deliver them to markets. They’d stop for ice cream on the way home.

For a while, most of the berry pickers Bill and Susie Schmidt hired were refugees from Vietnam, Bill said. The couple became godparents to many of the children. Susie once hosted a big turkey dinner for everyone.

The berry farmers also have dealt with plant disease and pests. There was one year they didn’t pick a single berry, Susie Schmidt said.

Another year, they had a thousand pounds stored in buckets and struggled to sell or even give away the berries, she said.

Blueberries have grown in popularity since then. Now, they’re widely appreciated as a sweet but healthy treat, low in calories but high in vitamins and antioxidants.

Susie’s dad is almost 91 years old, and his doctor told him to eat 18 blueberries a day, she said.

Kyle and Mikala Schmidt, new owners of the family farm, aim to be certified as organic producers in the next five years. There’s demand in the Seattle market, she said.

The couple’s goal is to keep their land a welcoming place for family and friends, where the next generation can learn to work and make their own memories.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com

Schmidt Blueberry Farm

1217 128th St. NE, Marysville

U-Pick hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Sunday

More info: 360-659-1423

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